Red for go, green for slow

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“Hey! You have just shot through the red light,” John shouted at the taxi driver.

“Aya, don’t worry lah, I know the traffic system well. Red light, no problem,” Ah Beng dismissed the complaint nonchalantly.

“My family has been driving taxi for years. My father was a taxi driver and so are my three brothers,” he added.

A few minutes later as they were approaching another intersection, the traffic light turned green. Instead of driving through as he should, Ah Beng slowed down to a halt and peered carefully at the cars at the other junctions.

“It’s green, why don’t you just go,” said the rather irritated John.

“I have to stop in case one of my brothers is around.”

Is this a true story or just a figment of my imagination? Is this a fact or fiction? Well, it is a faction – a fictitious account based on fact. A faction is a portmanteau word, which is a blend of two (or more) words to form a new word.

Everyday I see this very scene being played out before my very eyes – people shooting the red light. So much so that now, if I happen to be the first one at the green light I would do an Ah Benglike pause to ensure that I have a clear passage before I venture across the intersection.

However, not all slow coaches at the green light are cautious drivers who neither trust the traffic light system nor the other drivers. Rather these citizens, true to the nature of Kuching being a laid back city, are just plain complacent. Being at the front of the queue they would just take their time in shifting into gear, many a time chatting happily with their passengers or talking on the mobile phones. In the meantime, the drivers at the back of the line were fretting as they noted the seconds ticking by and the traffic light changing. By the time they get to the front, the light might be amber and going to red. Since they would be at near full throttle many might just conveniently put their feet down and zoomed across. So, we have this contrarian behaviour which a visitor commented: “It seems that in Kuching the red light is for go and green for slow”.

We may be just bemused by this weird urban driving habit. I say “bemused” not “horrified” because though collisions happen  usually they are not fatal. However, the antics of drivers travelling on our main trunk roads in the rural areas  can really horrify us. Here, infringements of good highway driving code usually result in deaths or serious injuries.

My friend, Henry, apparently is a frequent traveller along these roads. In a space of a month he managed to snap many photos of turned turtle cars, mangled wrecks, and distraught survivors along these “hell ways”. He posted a number of these on the social network and someone commented if he is jinxed, in that accidents seem to follow him around. The fact is not more mysterious than that he is an avid photographer and treats
his camera as an extension of his arm.

Last year we lost a friend to fatal accident along the Kuching to Sibu road. At the wake our conversation naturally centred on this rather gloomy matter. A number of people blamed the frequency of accidents on bad spirits. One even suggested that one of the accident survivors said that he saw a strange shadowy shape by the roadside at the fatal accident spot and suggested that the authorities should employ some sort of exorcists to cleanse the place.

I certainly do not want to tempt fate by declaring that there are no such things as spirits but I do not think that they go around overturning cars. I prefer to believe if there is any bad spirit it is the one that resides in us. This is the bad spirit of selfishness, recklessness, impatience and other weaknesses. These vices are manifested in bad and dangerous driving like crossing double white lines to overtake at the bend of the road or the brow of a hill; weaving in and out of driving lanes; keeping too close to the car in front and a host of other nefarious deeds.

Sometime ago, a transport magazine published that “the number of fatalities due to road accidents in Malaysia has consistently been above 6,000 since year 2003”. Yes, that adds up to 16 deaths from vehicle accidents every day.

In 2009 in a survey of 33 countries, Malaysia had the dubious honour of ranking top in the number of motoring fatalities. We scored 23.9 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, doubling that of Korea which stood at number 5 in the hall of shame. Germany, a country with no national speed limit on open roads, only registered 5.1 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

There are many reasons given for this sad state of affairs in Malaysia; among them bad road design, construction and maintenance; poor enforcement of traffic laws and human errors. However, accidents records show that the main causes for car accidents are reckless and negligent driving.

The journey to road safety is indeed a long one. As the saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”. Our first step, I believe, is to know that red light means “stop” and green light “go”.